Friday, December 22, 2006
by Martin Peretz
Post date: 12.22.06
Issue date: 01.15.07
She's not sure whether she is running for president. But she is certain that the time is right for a woman to try. Maybe Hillary Clinton thinks that Nancy Pelosi should be the Democratic candidate. OK, Hillary is not a candid person. This time--actually, the day that I write--she was not candid on NPR's "Morning Edition." Yesterday, it was on another platform. Tomorrow, she won't be candid on still another one. So, what else is new? We've accommodated to her trying to figure all the angles. Hillary has been scheming for the presidency since the day her husband entered the White House, which is why she didn't much take to Al Gore. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if she conspired with James Baker--or is that just me?
One of the problems about figuring all the angles is that you can't. And, believe me, Hillary tried. She has had an apparatus in place for just that chore for years. Not long enough ago to include Harold Ickes's father, the other Harold Ickes, who schemed for FDR. But this Harold Ickes (who ran Eugene McCarthy's campaign in New York), and Mandy Grunwald and John Podesta and Mark Penn and Tony Podesta and Susan Thomases, unless any of these have been unceremoniously pushed off the ship, much like Marian Wright Edelman--Hillary's closest sister and ideological soulmate--was pushed, never to be let on board again. In its youth, the team was a band of idealists, self-styled. Now it's made up of hardened cynics, no pretense otherwise. But the same folk.
Hillary and Co. prepared for Mark Warner and John Edwards, Bill Richardson and Joe Biden, Tom Vilsack and the really impossible--no, deluded--dreamer John Kerry. She probably had a strategy against Gore, too. She was confident and contemptuous. And then, suddenly, she found herself running against a latter-day Martin Luther King Jr.
There was no way to see Barack Obama coming. And, damn it, he is a picture of America's future, black and white. African father. Columbia. Harvard Law School, where he was president of the Law Review, no slouch he. Taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago, greater evidence of his brilliance. Supple in mind and bearing, evoking energy and thoughtfulness. Ah, yes, his most important public quality: He is comfortable in his own skin. She is not. Oh, is she not! What could Hillary possibly say against him? In the Democratic Party, it is still difficult to honestly criticize an African American. You can't even say a bad word about Al Sharpton, even though you can't say a truthful good word about him, either. But what, for heaven's sake, is there to criticize about Obama? Nothing.
Hillary is holding séances with Democratic politicians in New York. They can't but be for her. Even though my old student Chuck Schumer is more popular than her and more respected. And certainly deeper. The same is true for Eliot Spitzer. If they actually endorse, their endorsements will be discounted. New Mexico Representative Tom Udall probably supports New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson. And that means exactly what? Nothing. On the other hand, maybe Hillary will be able to entice Eleanor Roosevelt into her corner.
I have a question I've been reluctant to ask. Do the Clintons have any friends who aren't really rich? Maybe just a few, for old time's sake. But, as I read the clips about them, they consort largely, and maybe only, with zillionaires and very high-pay Hollywood types. It is not an axiomatic vocational hazard of politicians. Let me take Gore as an instance. He and Tipper have musician friends and professor friends and artist friends and just plain worker friends and farmer friends, for sure. Not that they don't mix with computer magnates, as well. But the Gores are rooted in ordinary life--in real, even quotidian activity. For example, he actually writes his own books. Believe it or not, it's true. The indulgent wealth that surrounds Bill and Hillary is, I am sure, corrupting. And that corruption--of taste, of moderation, of what is essential--cripples the soul and distorts life itself.
No wonder that Bill Clinton flies with frequency to Dubai and other sand eruptions in the Gulf to speak at conference after conference on topics so orotund that no one reports what he says. But isn't it a degradation of the presidency for this former president to shmooze, for money and money alone, with men (yes, only men) who want from him only his presence? But perhaps this sexism is a relief. The robed hosts do allow women to be among their foreign guests. At least they allow Madame Albright, who flatters them, also to address them. And Wesley Clark. But Clinton is the king of the Emirates Airline route. The indisputable king.
Which brings me back to Hillary. Does the American public really want her husband in the White House once again? And with nothing to do? Right now, what with George W. and Laura ensconced in the upstairs rooms, the return of the previous first couple may seem attractive, even alluring. But the hardened woman, who lost her health care proposal not to a GOP Congress but to a Democratic one, does not evoke the capacity to persuade, to compromise, to administer, to govern. Her coterie is too tight. Her mind too rigid. And her husband's is too, well, loose.
Hillary started out in 1993 with "the politics of meaning," that pretentious and portentous phrase that actually means nothing. She had leapt at it out of the mouth of a foolish "rabbi," Michael Lerner, earnest and oleaginous (he the enthusiast of tikkun olam, a theology rooted nowhere so firmly as in a Peter, Paul, and Mary song). But she dropped it quickly when she discovered that the American people were on to her preacher-teacher's banal words. Then she peddled It Takes A Village as book and slogan. It soon appeared too soft for her own entry into politics, and so she also sidetracked this theme. But now she is running for president. Tough-minded she was on Iraq, right up there with that junior senator from Massachusetts. A few days ago, she said that, had she known what she knows now, she wouldn't have voted for the war. Then, today, she said she wished she had voted against the war, whatever. She has fumbled and disenchanted the left, and the left is not easily forgiving. Still, as a gesture to that flank of the party, Hillary has republished It Takes A Village. But what it really takes is a majority of the electoral college. Which I don't see.
Martin Peretz is editor-in-chief of The New Republic.
Anyway, the happiest and tastiest of Christmases to you and your crew, GWB! Hope you're enjoying the new digs.
I hope that you'll be able to find all the cooking apparatus you'll need for the holiday! ;)